Kermit the Frog was wrong, says Boris Johnson, as he tells world leaders: it is easy being green

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Watch: Johnson disputes Kermit- 'It's easy to be green'

Boris Johnson has told world leaders it is “time to blow out the candles of a world on fire”, as he insists that Kermit the Frog was “wrong” to say it is not easy being green.

The Prime Minister used a landmark speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York to make the argument for nations radically escalating action to curb climate change.

It is his last major intervention on the world stage before Britain hosts the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, which starts at the end of next month.

Mr Johnson warned fellow leaders that “our grandchildren will know that we are the culprits”, if they fail to take urgent moves to prevent “desertification, drought, crop failure and mass movements of humanity on a scale not seen before”.

He said: “They will ask what kind of people we were to be so selfish and so short-sighted.”

In a bid to reassure developed nations that state interventions on climate change do not entail abandoning market economics, he said: “I don’t see the green movement as a pretext for a wholesale assault on capitalism.”

He was “not one of those environmentalists” who takes “a moral pleasure in excoriating humanity for its excess”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly - Eduardo Munoz
Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly - Eduardo Munoz

Prime Minister’s colourful argument 

On a lighter note, he deployed characteristically colourful language and invoked a Muppets character to argue that combating global warming did not have to be tough: “When Kermit the frog sang ‘It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green’, I want you to know he was wrong.”

Painting a positive picture of the options available to countries to become greener, he said: “We have the technology: we have the choice before us … We are awesome in our power to change things and awesome in our power to save ourselves.”

Every day, green start-ups are producing new ideas, he said, highlighting initiatives to feed seaweed to cows to restrain their traditional signs of digestive approval and to use AI and robotics to enhance food production.

“It is these technological breakthroughs that will cut the cost for consumers, so that we have nothing to fear and everything to gain from this green industrial revolution,” he said.

He stressed that nations have 40 days left until Cop26 to decide whether to follow such a path, as he set out his hope that it would prove a “coming of age” moment for the world.

The speech, which completes his four-day trip to the US, comes after President Joe Biden delivered a boon to Mr Johnson by pledging to double America’s cash pledge for the climate summit.

Hopes for significant progress at the meeting were raised further after President Xi Jinping issued a promise on Wednesday that China would not build new coal-fire projects abroad in future, a move that could be critical in tackling global emissions.

Mr Johnson paid tribute to Beijing for the vow in his speech, saying: “I thank President Xi for what he has done to end China’s international financing of coal and I hope China will now go further and phase out the domestic use of coal as well, because the experience of the UK shows it can be done.”

Watch: Who is 'Insulate Britain?'

‘Coal, cars, cash, trees’

The Prime Minister’s slogan for Cop26 is “coal, cars, cash, trees”, as he urges developed nations to phase out coal by 2030 and developing countries to follow suit by 2040.

Ending the era of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, delivering $100 billion in climate finance per year for developing countries, and halting deforestation by 2030 are the other key aims.

Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, will also use a speech on Thursday to warn that time is running out to act on the climate emergency, which will have devastating effects on the city.

He will say the capital is at a crossroads, as he launches a London-wide environmental campaign, ahead of the expansion of the ultra-low emission zone in the city.

It comes as analysis suggests rising temperatures could make the Tube potentially unbearably hot for more than a month a year. A quarter of London’s rail stations are now at high risk of flooding, and this summer parts of the city were hit by flash floods.

City Hall analysis also shows one in five schools, and nearly half of London’s hospitals, are at risk of flooding, and 200,000 homes and workplaces are at medium or high risk of surface water floods.

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